Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Chasing the northern lights

It was all over Twitter and the morning news. People around the north of England were seeing the aurora borealis, the northern lights. So, with nothing to stop us, we loaded the van with food, rucsacs, bikes and the lovable, limpy lab and set off. Tilly's had a recent resurgence of her back problem which means she, as we left, was on two, twenty minute walks per day; not much for a bouncy lab but, following prolonged chats with her her personal orthopaedic surgeon (yes, really) she's on a third drug, in addition to the two she's taken for a year now, and does seem to be settling back to her normal self. But she does have a limp, a result of elbow dysplasia which was operated on two years ago, which, it seems, we'll all have to learn to live with. I mention all this because it does impact on the outdoorsy stuff we can do at the moment, not wanting to leave her on her own for too long, especially in the van. We love her.

On a beautiful day we charged up the A1 to a fave van wild camp in Upper Teesdale. As night fell, the weather closed in so no chance of an aurora sighting here then. We woke to snow for Tilly's morning wander.

Then it was off further north to the Northumberland coast. It had turned cold again so we really would be best with some electricity. Keeping comfortable in the van means low heat during the night and this can soon rattle through our lpg tank. With mains electric, we can rely on that for low-level overnight heat. Our heating system still needs gas though to lift temperatures to a sensible level during the day.

We found a Camping & Caravanning Club certificated site just south of Amble which fitted the bill perfectly. No loo or shower, but we have those anyway, but electric hook up and just a tenner a night; perfect.

And on our first night there, keen not to miss any activity as I got up for a pee, I peered out through the window, then got dressed quickly to venture outside to see the faint tinge of green across the horizon. I woke Chrissie (it was around 4am). We were thrilled; our first sight of the aurora borealis. Brilliant! Sadly my attempt at a photo brought only a black sky. I wasn't prepared; should have had a tripod at the ready but, never mind, we saw it.

The following morning, after a 30 minute walk with Tilly (we were now upping her time a little) we were off on a bike ride to Amble, then following the coastal NCN1 south, before returning to camp.

That was a really pleasant ride. Cold, a touch windy, but quiet and relaxing.

Next morning, we treated Tilly to a walk on the beach, even letting her off the lead for a few minutes. She was beside herself, indulging her fondness for rubber sticks, aka seaweed branches.

Then we were off in the van to Alnwick on a cultural/shopping expedition. The castle and grounds were closed so we could only take sneaky pics through the trees.

And Chrissie joked that Prince Harry walked past us in the street (I didn't see 'im). Thing is, next day on the local news we saw he'd been in the area. P'raps she did see him?

Next day we fired up the bikes again, this time for a ride across country to Warkworth and the magnificent castle.

Then, off along a fine new cycleway to Alnmouth. Lunch in a cafe; hot beef stotties! Back along the cycleway to Amble and cakes bought from the, highly recommended, Trotters' Bakery; the most enormous Chelsea buns you have EVER seen.

We needed to head south the following day; we'd an assignation with our friends Kim & Hamish in a couple of days. So it was down to Durham where we used the excellent Park & Ride (special spaces for caravans and motorhomes) to visit the cathedral and Rohan; it being the last day I could use a discount voucher for their new merino/polyester mix T shirts. I'm hoping these'll be good for my End to End ride.

We found another wild camp spot for the night near Middleton in Teesdale and the following morning drove into Hamsterley Forest. Having walked Tilly and fixed the umpteenth puncture of the trip on Chrissie's bike, we spent an enjoyable 2 or 3 hours exploring the forest tracks which we've walked many times in the past.

Chrissie made an admirable job of dealing with the steepest slopes on her tourer. From here it was off to the North York Moors and another wild camp where we met up with K&H. Chrissie and Kim had a short backpack and wild camp planned for the next night whilst Hamish and I were off cycling.

See here for Chrissie's account of their backpack.

H & I cycled from Sleights into Whitby where we partook of lunch from the Magpie Cafe's excellent takeaway.

Then we followed the Cinder Track down to Robin Hood's Bay and back.

That night we camped in the vans high on the moors near the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. Just as Hamish turned in, a little after 10:30, storm force winds hit; easily 60 mph. My front roof vent snapped open (I'd forgotten I had it slightly open) and you can picture the scene as I stood on tip toes, trying to pull it closed against the full force of the wind. I succeeded ... just. I then had to turn the van round to point its nose straight into the gale to reduce the side to side rocking. It didn't let up all night. It's only my confidence in Chrissie's backcountry skills that kept me from worrying about her but, judge for yourself, by reading her account.

The following night, as K&H returned to the world of work, Chrissie and I settled in for afternoon tea at the same camp spot as my previous night (no wind now). I dozed off to awake to an inch of snow across the windscreen and the untreated road. We beat a careful retreat downhill towards Hutton le Hole and a safe, snow-free spot for the night before driving home next morning.

It'd been an exciting and eventful trip. Walking, cycling, aurora spotting and camping in 60mph winds (albeit some of us in tin boxes, rather than superlight nylon). Life is good!

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